EUREKA -- The Yurok Tribe is taking preliminary steps to establish a marine sanctuary from just south of Crescent City to Little River, the boundaries of the tribe's ancestral lands.

Tribal representatives appeared before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to explain their interest in establishing a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Sanctuary as part of the tribe's park concept.

”We are exploring the Marine Sanctuary as a tool for resource protection,” tribal council representative Shaunna McCovey told the board. “As a tribe, we feel responsible to be stewards of our environment.”

McCovey said tribal representatives have been in conversation with NOAA about the possibility.

The tribe has also discussed the possibility with commercial fishermen, the mayor of Trinidad and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, according to Tribal representative Mike Belchik.

”We are rolling this thing out right now,” he said. “This is the beginning of a long road.”

Among the objectives, Belchik said, is to preserve cultural areas up and down the coast while allowing people to continue utilizing marine resources.

”The general goal and objective is to protect coastline from future heavy industrial development,” he said.

While such a sanctuary could have impacts on fishing, the intent is to have no undue effect on commercial fishing, Belchik said.

Representatives of the Trinidad Rancheria expressed concern that the sanctuary, if designated, would effect the harbor and the surroundings seas. The rancheria owns the Trinidad pier and Seascape Restaurant. The Rancheria is also in the process of putting together a Trinidad Harbor Planning Study, representatives said.

Efforts to communicate with the Yurok Tribe, Trinidad Rancheria Council member Shirley Laos said, had been made repeatedly without success.

Trinidad Rancheria, she said, opposes establishment of a marine sanctuary that extends beyond the Yurok boundaries.

At the request of 5th District Supervisor Jill Geist, National Marine Sanctuary Program Regional Policy Coordinator Matt Brookhart provided a basic outline of the program which includes five sanctuaries along the west coast of the United States: Four in California and one in Washington.

The program, he said, uses education, threat reduction, research and monitoring, and partnerships for resource protection.

For each sanctuary, advisory councils are set up to provide community-based forums for regional stakeholders, he said.

First District Supervisor Jimmy Smith questioned how the proposed sanctuary would mesh will existing management programs for the North Coast fisheries and whether the agency's technical evaluation of the fisheries could lead to additional regulations.

Yes, Brookhart said, the program manages the sanctuaries over time for cumulative impacts to the environment would could lead to additional regulations.

”But,” he added, “I would say it's a very robust consultative process.”

That process requires consulting with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council on any decision affecting fishing,” Brookhart said,

Upon further questioning, Brookhart said that once the sanctuary designation is made, a list of activities are compiled that are subject to regulation.

Smith said he's really worried about the potential designation on what's left of the coast fisheries.

Geist stressed the importance of keeping all involved informed. The 5th District supervisor invited the Yurok Tribal representative to make an overall presentation about plans for a tribal park and urged the Yuroks to do outreach to both the Trinidad Rancheria and the Trinidad City Council.

In a related matter, Brookhart said two NOAA research vessels are due to arrive in the Klamath area later this week, one working far offshore and another relatively close to the coast. Among the slated projects are under water photography of habitat as well as noting the type, size and amount of fish spotted.

The second ship, a new deep-water research vessel, Brookhart said, will be testing new gear. The results will be available to agencies and the public.